zIIP Poised to Go Supernova?

IBM officials are confident zIIP will take off -- once it’s had time to germinate in the minds of customers

IBM Corp.’s newest mainframe specialty engine, the zSeries Integrated Information Processor (zIIP), started shipping last June.

That means customers have had the better part of ten months to evaluate, test, and—in some cases—deploy zIIP in their environments. At this point, however, comparatively few customers have made such a move, IBM officials concede.

"I would classify it as interest right now. I’d like to say there were more active projects than I have seen, and there are some active projects happening [now]," says Randy Daniel, director of System z marketing execution with IBM. "A lot of [potential customers] are still exploring what it means for their environment [and] how they can leverage zIIPs. We’ve seen interest from BI ISVs, too."

It’s not a question of remaining upbeat (or of taking a long view, for that matter), says Daniel; it’s more an issue of giving zIIP, like other mainframe processor engines, time to germinate in the minds of customers.

"We’re in the beginning stages. zIIP has been out for nine months, people are starting to understand its implications. The interest is there. It’s picking up. We’re working with several customers in that area. Obviously, we didn’t get to this point—with folks moving BI off the mainframe—overnight, so it’s unrealistic to expect it to change overnight."

He compares zIIP uptake to that of Big Blue’s Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL), which, following its late-2000 debut, had a comparatively slow adoption pattern, at least relative to other mainframe processor engines, such as IBM’s red hot zSeries Application Assist Processor (zAAP).

"If you look at the uptake in IFLs on a quarter-by-quarter basis from the time it started to today, and if you take and lay a graph on top of it of the zAAP uptake, you’ll see a steeper incline for zAAP," Daniel argues. "We’re seeing the same kind of thing beginning on zIIPs, and we expect it’ll ultimately be a quicker uptake than zAAP."

zAAP is something of an anomaly. It was an anecdotal—and all-but-bona-fide—success after slightly more than a year on the market. More to the point, there seemed to be plenty of pent-up demand for zAAP even before Big Blue announced it. IBM officials were citing strong demand for zAAP by late 2005—slightly more than a year after Big Blue first shipped z/OS V1R6, the first zAAP-ready version of z/OS, in late September of 2004.

Other industry watchers also noticed an uptick in WebSphere-on-System z activity at around the same time. "WebSphere is becoming very hot right now. IBM is pushing it hard, so we’re actually investing quite a bit in our WebSphere product," said Bill Miller, a vice-president with BMC Software Corp., in an interview late in 2004. "Customers are saying, ‘We’ve got to have WebSphere tomorrow, we’ve got to have [WebSphere] MQ tomorrow, we need it right away on the mainframe part.’"

The WebSphere Connection

Mainframe veteran Mark Post, deputy project manager with the SHARE Linux project, also cited an uptick in WebSphere-on-z/OS activity at around the same time. "From talking to IBM folks at SHARE and zExpo, I know that IBM is selling a lot of WebSphere to run on Linux/390. They told me it's their most popular piece of software on that platform," said Post, in an October 2005 interview.

"I believe that [two prominent financial institutions] are probably the most likely to be doing a significant amount of development work [with WebSphere and zAAP]. I believe [a West Coast-based financial services company] in particular is doing just that, probably with Java on WebSphere."

There doesn’t seem to be a similar uptick in zIIP-on-z/OS activity at this time, however. Daniel concedes as much, and purveyors of Big Iron extraction, transformation, and loading (ETL) tools say they aren’t yet seeing much growth in their mainframe-related ETL businesses, either.

"We have seen a lot of interest in the zLinux offering that’s following IBM’s push," says Don Tirsell, senior director of product marketing with Informatica Corp. Informatica markets a pair of mainframe data access offerings—its flagship PowerCenter ETL tool and its PowerExchange mainframe data access gateway (which it acquired from the former Striva several years ago).

"There are people who want to be mainframe-centric that want to feed their other applications, and [thanks to zIIP] MIPS cost is not as big an issue as it is with some other shops. The biggest [driver] we’re seeing is interest in zLinux."

That being said, Tirsell indicates, zLinux-related ETL adoption is a not-insignificant revenue generator for Informatica. "Folks who are taking Linux on the mainframe very seriously are looking at our grid capabilities to deploy a grid on the mainframe. You don’t have to have all these boxes everywhere. You can have a mainframe be a big cabinet, and you can have a grid [in that cabinet]. That’s very attractive to [these customers]."

Tirsell, like IBM’s Daniel, has a pragmatic take on zIIP adoption and zIIP-related ETL. "This isn’t something [customers are] going to get into overnight," he comments. "The flip side is that a large number of prospects still want to migrate off the mainframe. We’ve partnered with Microsoft in their mainframe offload [effort], Sybase is another [vendor that] we’ve partnered with. EDS has a mainframe application modernization practice and they’re using our technology. It took a long time for [customers] to get to this point, and it’ll take a while for them to come around" to bringing information back to the mainframe, Tirsell indicates.

With zIIP, IBM is trying to push a new vision—that of a mainframe-centered information Utopia—instead of (as was the case with zAAP) meeting pent-up customer demand. The zIIP’s value proposition is compelling, Daniel asserts, and, once mainframe shops understand the manner in which it can impact their environments, could be potentially transformative. He cites Computer Associates International Inc.’s announcement of zIIP-offloading support in some of its management tools (see http://www.esj.com/enterprise/article.aspx?EditorialsID=2457) as one such example.

"I think what you’ll see ... is that the adoption curve is going to be significantly steeper because [zIIP] can actually give our customers an advantage on existing workloads—and that’s something of a departure from our normal practice," he concludes.

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